From the book
From the book
Twenty-Seven Years Later: August 2045
There were perhaps a hundred people in the ballroom of Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel, and at least half of them had only a short time left to live.
Of course, being rich, those who were near death had mostly availed themselves of the best cosmetic treatments: face-lifts, physiognomic rebuilds, even a few facial transplants. I found it unsettling to see twenty-year-old visages attached to stooped bodies, but at least the transplants looked better than the ghastly tautness of one face-lift too many.
Still, I reminded myself, these were indeed cosmetic treatments. The faux-youthful faces were attached to old, decaying bodies--bodies thoroughly worn out. Of the elderly who were present, most were standing, a few were in motorized wheelchairs, some had walkers, and one had his legs encased in powered armatures while another wore a full-body exoskeleton.
Being old isn't what it used to be, I thought, shaking my head. Not that I was old myself: I was just forty-four. Sadly, though, I'd used up my fifteen minutes of fame right at the beginning, without even being aware of it. I'd been the first baby born in Toronto on I January 2001--the first child of the new millennium. A much bigger fuss had been made over the girl who had popped out just after midnight on 1 January 2000, a year that had no significance save for ending in three zeros. But that was okay: the last thing I wanted to be was a year older, because a year from now, I might very well be dead. The old joke ran through my mind again:
"I'm afraid I've got some bad news," said the doctor. "You don't have long to live."
The young man swallowed. "How much time have I got left?"
The doctor shook his head sadly. "Ten."
"Ten what? Ten years? Ten months? Ten--?"
"Nine ... Eight ..."
I shook my head to dispel the thought and looked around some more. The Fairmont Royal York was a grand hotel, dating from the first glory days of rail travel, and it was enjoying a revival now that magnetic-levitation trains were flying along the old tracks. The hotel was across the street from Union Station, just north of Toronto's lakeshore--and a good twenty-five kilometers east of where my parents' house still stood. Chandeliers hung from the ballroom ceiling, and original oil paintings adorned the flock-papered walls. Tuxedoed servers were milling about offering glasses of wine. I went to the open bar and ordered a tomato juice heavily spiked with Worcestershire; I wanted a clear head this evening.
When I stepped away from the bar with my drink, I found myself standing next to an honest-to-goodness old lady: wrinkled face, white hair. Amid the surrounding denial and fakery, she was quite refreshing.
The woman smiled at me, although it was a lopsided smile--she'd clearly suffered a stroke at some point. "Here alone?" she asked. Her pleasant voice was attenuated into a Southern drawl, and it was also tinged by the quaver often found in the elderly.
"Me, too," she said. She was wearing a dark jacket over a lighter blouse, and matching dark slacks. "My son refused to bring me." Most of the other old folks had companions with them: middle-aged children, or lawyers, or paid caregivers. I glanced down, noted that she was wearing a wedding band. She apparently followed my gaze. "I'm a widow," she said.
"So," she said,...
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Robert J. Sawyer was born in Ottawa and lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. He has won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel.